Cabinets the Color of Construction Signs Enliven an Artist's House
Following an unexpected return to Maine, a couple finds peace in an 800-square-foot kit house in Pownal.
ABOVE The cherry-red door on Carol Bass and Bob Newton’s Pownal home — equipped with a bronze-colored metal roof and granite patio — hints at the boisterous palette inside.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MYRIAM BABIN
Early in 2020, Carol Bass decided it was time, once again, to shake things up. “I’m spontaneous with my artwork, like it’s jazz, and that’s the way I live my life,” says Bass, an abstract painter and sculptor who co-founded, and later sold, the beloved Maine Cottage furniture line in Yarmouth. For six years, she and her partner, woodworker Bob Newton, lived on South Carolina’s Edisto Island, in a home they built to be their last. But Bass yearned to move closer to family and friends in southern Maine, where she and Newton met and lived most of their adult lives. It took months to find a buyer for the South Carolina house, during which time Maine’s pandemic housing market went from frozen to frothy. Newton began to have doubts. “I look at the nuts and bolts a little more than Carol does,” he says. “And I didn’t think it was the right time to move at all.”
ABOVE 1) Wicker chairs Bass painted turquoise surround the dining table where she works sometimes. 2) In the kitchen, acrylics by Vinalhaven’s Peter McGlamery hang above bowls by Bass’s son-in-law, Connecticut potter Aaron Sober. 3) An acrylic by Sullivan’s Philip Barter crowns a kitchen countertop Newton made from cherry harvested on the couple’s former South Carolina property; the pottery is by Yarmouth’s Marian Baker. 4) Bass believes you can’t go wrong pairing primary colors, as she did with the kitchen’s sapphire ceramic tile from Yarmouth’s Homestead Flooring and cabinets in Benjamin Moore’s Abstracta.
But he trusted Bass’s vision. The couple purchased four acres on a hilltop in Pownal fringed with forest and bordered on two sides by Chandler Brook. They wanted a small house that would be easy to maintain and navigate, especially for Carol, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and sometimes needs to use a walker. After spending weeks looking for a builder, without success, they approached Gaius Hennin and Blueberry Beeton, of the Shelter Institute in Woolwich, which offers a line of prefab post-and-beam homes. Bass and Newton modified Shelter’s 20-by-30-foot design to include a front porch with a granite patio, a 200-square-foot living-room bump-out, and, to counter the darkness Newton says is characteristic of post-and-beams, large windows throughout. The Shelter crew framed the house and installed structural insulated panels in three days, and Newton spent the following nine months putting in windows and wrapping up the finish work with occasional help from the couple’s friends and five adult children.
Inside, Carol Bass selected a slate gray for the ceiling, which she believes sets the home’s golden pine beams in relief, “like a piece of art.” Gallery-white walls showcase vibrant paintings, a cobalt-tile kitchen backsplash finds its soul mate in complementary yellow cabinets inspired by highway construction signs (“They had to keep mixing it for us at the paint store,” recalls Bass. “It wasn’t bright enough.”), and a Therma-Tru door shines in the manufacturer’s Ruby Red. “In my art, I don’t diminish the colors, so I didn’t want to diminish the colors in my house,” Bass says. “Color brings zest and life into the room.”
ABOVE 1) The living room features works by Carol Bass, including her Water Bodies series and sculptural Lips, a cherry chest by Newton, and plants from Kennebunk’s Snug Harbor Farm. 2) On the patio, granite slabs Newton hauled from a Yarmouth quarry join a concrete section that’s easy for Bass’s walker to traverse. The wicker chairs are from a “very exclusive” South Carolina Costco, she jokes.
On a recent morning, Bass sits at the maple dining table where she paints smaller pieces, while the couple’s 7-year-old grandson, Forrest, sprawls in the sunshine soaking the concrete floor. Newton buzzes around, pointing out little things that needle him about the place — the blight of the washer and dryer stacked in a living-room niche, the contractor fingerprints on a beam in the entryway. Bass shrugs. She says she’s grateful to have a house at all, given the timing, though she never doubted that Newton would pull it off. “He intrinsically supports me in crazy ways,” she says. In reply, Newton picks up a painting leaning against a wooden bench. It’s a frenzy of fuchsia and safety-orange dots over which Bass has added two thick emerald zigzags, bold as censor bars. “This funky background with these dots and so forth,” he says. “You could paint thousands of these and they’ll all be different and they’ll all be pretty cool.” He urges Bass to follow the impulse further, really go for it, because why not see where this new idea leads?